Church Planting Movements for Real. For us?

Church Planting Movements (CPM), ever hear of them? I just got through reading a recent article of Missions Frontiers magazine on the topic and was amazed at how God is working rapidly multiplying churches throughout the world (actually non-Western countries). It got me to thinking, is there something we can glean from the excitement going on everywhere else, could that sort of thing happen here?

First off what is a CPM? According to David Garrison (p. 9), an early tracker of CPM’s, a CPM is “a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment”. These typically are home-church based movements with each church averaging from a dozen to several dozen members. At least 200 of these movments have been identified (p. 13), the fastest of which is in Asia: 1.7 million baptisms and 150,000 new church plants in the past decade. This work was spawned by Chinese-American Ying Kai who also created the “Training for Trainers” (T4T) approach (p. 10). There has been considerable scrutiny as to the validity of these movements; however, recent efforts have shown many if not most of these movements to be authentic and some to be exaggerated. 

Some of the things that struck me were how broad-based the CPM  movements were. They are found among educated and illiterate populations; Hindu, Buddhist, Animistic, and Atheistic populations; and rural and city; modern and postmodern populations. I was most surprised that there are even CPM’s among India’s upper caste which I had always heard was nearly impossible to reach.

I was also surprised at some of the descriptions of these groups in foreign contexts which were fairly similar to what we experience:

  • The emphasis on reproducing bridges (i.e., relationships with non-Christians), reproducing evangelism (gospel presentation), reproducing discipleship, reproducing churches and reproducing leaders (p. 7).
  • The difficulty with working with some of the local established churches who would often rather build bigger churches and new buildings which stifles rapidly growing home churches and to some extent corrupts new believers (p. 21, 23)
  • All night prayer meetings are common  (p. 21)
  • Church leadership arising from within the church rather than from without (p. 12)
  • Bible studies being held wherever, for example in Cuba (p. 26) where it is estimated that nearly 10% of the population has become Evangelical in the last decade, they meet in public garages, lean-to’s, living rooms, etc…, i.e., church without walls
  • In all of the descriptions and emphases there was no mention of a worship service (not that they don’t worship, I’m sure they do, but the “worship service” is not central to the church mission and purpose)
  • People who are “no good” are often the instruments of God to start a movement

In thinking about some of our desires to plant university-based CPM’s in other cities I found two examples I think very enlightening and encouraging. First, I was struck by the “Person of Peace” (see Luke 10) brought up in Kevin Greeson’s article about Muslim CPM’s (pp. 22-24). Often what is found in a new region is that God has placed a Person of Peace who is as much looking for the missionary as is the missionary for him/her. It’s through this person or group that the CPM is begun. In fact when Greeson realized how God works in this way (much like Lydia in Acts 16), his mentality switched from “What’s it going to take to stay in this country?” (i.e., not get kicked out) to “What’s it going to take to find Persons of Peace who can start movements?”.  Second, from B.D.B. Moses’ article on Hindu CPM’s (p. 21), they find that the role of the missionary or church planter is to Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave. This seems very similar to Paul’s missionary journey’s and correspondence with churches he visited and some he didn’t even personally visit. They do not stay for too long a time because ultimately it’s up to the Spirit’s movement among the indigenous peoples to grow and plant churches. Both of these examples, perhaps we could even call them principles, are very appropriate as we explore new ventures. Is God raising Persons of Peace or as we like to affectionately call them “Pagan Christians” in places we feel led to plant? Can we approach church planting as more of an itinerant endeavor?

There was one article on CPM principles applied in the US. Jeff Sundell (pp. 27-28) wrote about his attempt in North Carolina. It was a little depressing to read how no one really was willing to “share their story” (witness) to their lost friends, in fact nobody had any lost friends. They ended up having to change the terminology from “lost” to “far from God”. However, they have seen 40  discipleship groups in the last year and some “far from God” draw nearer to Him. I’m not sure exactly what that means though?

I will close with the article by Steve Smith, one of the guys who heads up the T4T approach. He wrote an article on “The Power of Precedent and Promise” (pp. 16-18) which is an abridged version of a chapter from his book “T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution”. His point was there is precedent for CPM’s now where a few decades ago there were none. Once you have precedent, the motivation to try and succeed is huge (as an example he used the example of how David’s mighty men slew a bunch of giants, relatives of Goliath, in 2 Sam 22 because of the precedent set by David with Goliath in 1 Sam 17). But even if there is no precedent in a given local, there is the promise God gives (Matt 28, Acts 1:8, Acts 19:10) that this happens and His Spirit moves in such a way … and promise is good enough. Someone has to be the first to try.

For further info,  check out these sites as well:

California Adventure: The Universities

After returning from our Oregon expedition, we set out to visit two more campuses. We went Wednesday to UC Santa Cruz, a most picturesque campus set in a grove of redwoods. The school is on the north side of Monterey Bay. It really was an amazing layout including its own outdoor amphitheatre set within a large cavern buffeted by Redwoods. Unfortunately this week is midterms week at UC campuses so the student population is low. We did talk to some professors and student. We are planning to return to Santa Cruz to meet up with Ian and hopefully Lambert to get a more inside look at Santa Cruz possibilities so more to come about Santa Cruz.

On Thursday we headed out to Sacramento to visit UC Davis (just west of Sacramento). Our new friends the Shearers and Doug Krieger live in Sacramento and pointed out to us that there are more students per capita in and around Sacramento than anywhere in the US. Davis is a very cool college town and reminds you very much of the Ohio State scene near campus. Davis itself has about 30,000 students and some Christian presence. It too was a sprawling campus and has some very cool places to have informal open bible studies. There is considerable off campus housing and the whole city is essentially geared towards the college.

We then went over to the Shearer’s house in Sacramento to meet with a bunch of their peoples, especially students. There were at least twenty people there, many in college or of college age (from 19 to 26). Most go to Cal State Sacramento (Sac State – we didn’t make that up, that’s what they call it) or a community college. Keith gave an amazing teaching on some of our convictions and observations about reaching out to this generation, the ineffectiveness of the church and many of the hang ups that the Christians have to get over in order to really love (what Jesus calls us to do) those who are lost. It seemed like many were into what we had to say about some of the trappings of the worship service and petty things the church concentrates on at the expense of actually being able to connect with people. It was quite a spirited night with much discussion, a definite sense of providence, and many varied views – from charismatic to end-times. The Doug’s and Sita are sweet saints and we were treated with great hospitality and warmth and it was so cool to meet the young folk, some of whom who have come from the gang culture. We were there until nearly midnight and didn’t get back to our hotel until after 1:30 AM. We left there not sure what to make of everything, but excited; the need for prayer is great. We know that we can work with these folks, provided that some of the minor doctrinal beliefs do not get in the way – which we don’t think that great an issue considering the spirit of these brothers and sisters, and that they perhaps can start something sooner than later with the people they now have.

The California Adventure – Elaine et al

We were super psyched after meeting with the three JF’s (Jesus Freaks) the day before and we wanted to visit Elaine Stedman on Monday; however, the trip is a long one (over seven hours to Medford Oregon) and we were a little apprehensive because she is pretty old and we’re quite the posse. But Elaine assured us we were welcome (she cooked for us the day before a multicourse meal) and we figured it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity so off we went.

We went up the direct route through the middle of California. The drive was long but there was great fellowship and many cool sites. We went by Mount Shasta – a large volcanic-formed mountain which still has a glacier on it. Mark got many great pics. We made it to Elaine’s at about 1:00 PM – right on schedule. We were greeted with overwhelming warmth. In addition to Elaine were three of her daughters, Lynn, a former elder of PBC and Ken (from Michigan) a worship leader who currently teaches on worship at Pacific Bible College. We were well fed and had great fellowship. There were many interesting discussions surrounding Ray, the early days of PBC (F), living by the New Covenant, reaching the lost, the worship service, the importance of buildings… to name a few and not without some healthy debate. We were all sort of amazed that we all came together like this and definitely figured the Spirit is behind it. We stayed at Elaine’s for probably four or five hours and on our way out visited Ray’s grave with Elaine and her oldest daughter Sheila. It was a beautiful late afternoon and we enjoyed a good time of prayer at the gravesite before we headed west to the coast. Though pretty old, small in stature and with her voice failing, Elaine was warm and possessed a spiritual depth that compelled you to listen. It will be hard to top the visit with Elaine at al.

We then went to the coast to take the scenic coastal way home and stayed overnight in Crescent City CA, just south of the Oregon border. The coast there looks like something out of a calendar with a rocky coast, waves crashing, and light house. Unfortunately it rained on the way home so the scenery was diminished somewhat, but even so, the redwood forests were quite amazing as well as what we could see of the coast. We made a stop in Arcata, which had a “hippy” community, to look around and get some lunch. It was a bizarre place which extolled the use of marijuana and multiple pagan beliefs. It felt absent of life – very similar to the feel at Berkeley. It was a stark reminder of the world we live in and why we are here. A stark contrast to the heavenly fellowship we experienced the day before. We eventually got back to San Fran late that night – the scenic route was a rather long route.

One theme that seems to resonate in all our discussions so far is that God is up to something. There is a sense of unrest out here amongst these veteran revolutionaries, similar to what was sensed back in the seventies. The world is messed up, there is no purpose, and only the Lord holds any real answers. It really is amazing to see the hope and sense of expectation in the eyes of these older revolutionaries and then to think that perhaps the Lord wants us to have a part in it. As we look for open doors we turn today to Sacramento and the JFs. We are hoping to meet with them in the next couple days to see the lay of the land and discuss the spiritual forces for good that seem to be aligning themselves there. Stay tuned.

The California Adventure: Berkeley

The five NEO Xenoids arrived Saturday afternoon to a sunny San Francisco to see what the Lord may have in store for us on the left coast. We got to our hotel on the bay and started putting together a plan of action for the week. The first stop on our adventure was a visit to Berkeley on Sunday. And what an adventure it was! We met three Jesus Freaks who drove up from Sacramento (about 100 miles away): Doug Shearer, his wife Sita Shearer and their longtime coworker Doug Krieger. These guys were in the middle of so much that happened at Berkeley and played a huge part in the Jesus movement that flourished in the 70’s. They gave us an extensive tour of the campus and surroundings. We spent all day walking up one side of the campus and down the other, seeing some of the famous sites of the “Free Speech” movement and their former ministry hot spots. It was such a blast to hang out with these three spiritual powerhouse. Even though these saints were in their 60’s, they proved more than up for the task and their joy and enthusiasm was contagious. Especially Doug Kreiger, though ill with bronchitis, did not want to miss the opportunity to meet us. In fact he seemed to outpace us and was always leading us on to the next site to see. We found out later that the Shearers had to take Doug to the hospital on their way home to Sacramento.

The atmosphere at Berkeley however is a very dark one. We searched the campus for evidence of a Christian influence and found practically nothing. There was one “Veritas” Christian group for graduate students and the next closest thing was a Seventh Day Adventist group? From the posters and advertisements, it seemed like every other Eastern religious, New Age, earth-cause, sorcery, or activist group had a presence at Berkeley, but not Christianity. It definitely felt like we were walking through the dark alleys of the devil’s stronghold.

One of the things that has given us some pause about Berkeley as a target is the absence of student contacts there. In order to start or get involved in a college-based ministry we feel an open door would be at least a few students who want to work with us (similar to how we’ve started things at KSU). Nothing is certain, but this is our initial impression both from going there and discussing things with many of our contacts. There is still much more to investigate. We are looking at other universities. Santa Cruz south of the bay is one possibility. Even more promising may be Sacramento itself. More to come on these fronts as well as our very edifying meet with Elaine Stedman and some of her family and friends on Monday.

Greg and Lina’s Excellent Adventure Part I: Taiwan

Well the first leg of our adventure is over :(. We arrived in Taiwan late last Wednesday, dealt with jet lag the next couple days in the Taipei area and spent the last three days with the Gibsons in Chiayi Taiwan … and thoroughly enjoyed it! What cool servants of the Lord the Gibsons are and how they fit in to the Chiayi scene. It was a blast to tool around town on scooters, eat interesting food, see how the Gibsons have mastered the language and can converse/joke around with the locals, hear about what they are doing, meet some of their team and the people they are reaching out to, and fool around with their high school group.

Taiwan, not surprisingly, is so different than the West. The language of course is so different and takes a major effort to master (2 years of dedicated study says Seann). Though we have many Chinese restaurants in the US, seeing the fish and various other animal and plant life displayed and cooked in a number of different ways is fascinating… and the variety of dishes (or bowls) we tried were delicious! Most unique and very dark is their dedication to the worship of different gods of their region and their enslavement to ancestor worship. We were able to see a large celebration of several of the local temples and even attend a “banquet of the gods”. The gods had not yet shown up to the banquet. But the spread for them was quite impressive. Who will eat all the delicious deserts, booze, and smoke the pipes that were laid out for them?

The most hideous of their beliefs, though is ancestor worship. They believe that if their children do not worship them after they die then they will drift around in the ghost world. Consequently, every subsequent generation is enslaved to worship their parents after they die; otherwise they will cause their parents to live in this awful state. So much is tied to this including some messed up family relationships and especially abusive men. If any place needed love ethics, this is the place! How Christ could free them from this enslavement if they are willing to turn to Him. But, it’s so difficult for them to see their need for Christ alone because they are predominantly polytheists and they have no concept of sin and the need for forgiveness. Nearly the whole country (at least 98%) is caught up in this dark and evil worldview and even higher percentages in the working class with whom the Gibsons are working.

Interestingly, many similarities are shared with the US. This is a capitalistic country and they are relatively wealthy. There are few poor, food is plentiful, and the country has most modern amenities. They can thank the US for that. What was interesting was that even though they have adopted the worship of the almighty dollar (dollars are also the national currency, but a Taiwan $ is worth about 0.33 US $), they did not adopt the worship of the Christian God. Some have thought that the spread of democracy and capitalism should result in the adoption of other Western beliefs and morality. Instead, their wealth has emboldened the people to adhere more strongly to their ancestral beliefs and cultural practices. The mob rules, especially in Chiayi which results in a relatively “safe”, low crime environment, but prostitution and gambling rackets are the norm for society and are the playground for the men in particular. One result of the prosperity is that women are more educated now and in some cases able to make it on their own. Amy leads a Bible study group with a few single ladies who have come to the Lord. One problem is that there really aren’t too many Christian guys to marry which leaves them in a somewhat precarious position… something to pray about.

An interesting aspect of their culture is the way schools are run. Jr high and high schools meet from about 7:30AM to 5:00PM for school (11 months of the year, six days a week). Then they have to go to “cram school” an hour or two later for another few hours to help study for exams. You high schoolers think you have it rough! As a result you just have kids roaming the streets for an hour or two. This is where a great opportunity for the gospel exists. The Chiayi team was essentially given a store front in the city and opens it up each evening in between regular school and cram school to high schooler’s they are reaching out to. We were there Friday night and about seven kids showed up which was low because that was one of the off nights. Although they are only there for about an hour, it’s a pretty cool scene and the kids really seem to enjoy hanging out. Out of this social scene Seann has been able to get a group of high school guys to meet Tuesday nights for a Bible study at his house. .. something else to pray about.

We also enjoyed many great conversations about more stuff going on with the mission in Taiwan, about NEO Xenos, and about our efforts to learn more about missions and be a sending church in the not too distant future. Maybe next month we can talk about some of these things at the Missions Prayer Meeting. Well, that’s enough for now… it is on to Shanghai.